Nadine  Brammer Eckhardt
Nadine Brammer Eckhardt, first wife and muse of novelist Billy Lee Brammer (The Gay Place) and second wife of Texas Democratic Congressman Robert C. Eckhardt, has died at the age of 87. (Dec. 8, 2018, Austin, Texas)
Nadine Brammer Eckhardt, an alluring and articulate light among Washington, DC and Texas political circles, was a provocative beauty whose well-honed political savvy, frankness, and straightforward verbal wit earned her lifelong friendships among writers, artists, progressive activists, and politicos. Namesake for two notable restaurants (Nadine's in New York City's West Village and Nadine's in Austin, Texas) and for filmmaker Robert Benton's 1987 film, Nadine, she was seen by many as an influential cultural conduit, by virtue of her ability to move confidently across many subcultures and historic moments.
As young marrieds in the 1950's, Eckhardt and her first husband Billy Lee Brammer served on Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson's staff.
After Eckhardt divorced Brammer in 1961, she began working at the Texas Statehouse, which provided her with valuable experience and introduced her to an up-and-coming state representative from Houston named Robert C. Eckhardt. He proposed to her in 1962, and with the aid of her energetic charm and political instincts, he was elected as a Democrat to the U.S. Congress, from 8th District Houston in 1966. As a Congressman's wife, Eckhardt was known for her generous hospitality and diverting conversation. LBJ advisor and MPAA head Jack Valenti once remarked to The Washington Post that Nadine Eckhardt was the person he'd most like to be seated next to at a Washington D.C. dinner party.
During a heady time of cultural and political upheaval, Eckhardt worked diligently to keep her husband's Congressional office and home life a well-organized and effective political machine, while also keeping him well up on the changing times. They visited Resurrection City during the Poor Peoples' March in 1968, and invited friends they made there to their home for hot showers and a good night's sleep. She counseled the Congressman to speak out against the Vietnam War, opposing her old boss, then the sitting President from Texas. Eckhardt opened up their Georgetown townhouse to student antiwar demonstrators running from tear gas fired at them by National Guardsmen during 1970 May Day protests.
A lifetime progressive activist, Eckhardt always managed to straddle both the establishment and counter culture through turbulent times. She continued to count younger people as her close friends until her death.
Increasingly disenchanted with the superficiality of Washington life during the Watergate years, Eckhardt returned to East Texas in the late 1970s, where she went into therapy, divorced the Congressman, sold real estate, and worked on regional political campaigns. She returned to Austin in the 1980s, where she opened Nadine's Restaurant with her son, Willy, in East Austin where they served home cooking and exhibited the works of many local artists and photographers. Several younger politicians received the benefit of Eckhardt's connections during those years, including a progressive-minded street vendor named Max Nofziger (who was elected, against all odds, to the Austin City Council).
Eckhardt joined her three daughters (Sidney and Shelby Brammer and Sarah Eckhardt) in New York City in the 1990s, devoting her political acumen and contacts to organizing Manhattan fundraisers for her friend, Ann Richards, during Richards' successful bid for Texas Governor. Eckhardt also worked as a New York University Dean's assistant while serving as a figurehead for the new Nadine's Restaurant on Bank Street, West Village, which featured several of her Texas recipes.
A decade later and back in Austin, Eckhardt was behind the political scenes again, helping to elect her youngest daughter, Sarah Eckhardt, to the Travis County Commissioner's Court. Nadine Eckhardt also worked for the Texas Public Utilities Commission and as an assistant to political writer Molly Ivins, using the skills she attributed to her early training on Senator Johnson's staff.
In her seventies, Eckhardt wrote a noteworthy memoir (Duchess of Palms, University of Texas Press) about her long life in politics and letters. Evident in her dedication "to the fifties girls," Eckhardt saw herself as an example of the many pre-feminist women of her generation who had to apply their brains and talent to pushing ambivalent mates toward high achievement, rather than pursuing their own dreams and careers.
She is survived by her children, William Eckhardt and Sarah Eckhardt of Austin, TX, and Sidney and Shelby Brammer of Bartlesville, OK, as well as two grandchildren, Nadine and Hank Sauer Eckhardt, and her stepdaughters, Orissa Eckhardt Arend and Rosalind Eckhardt. A memorial service is being planned for January 2019 in Austin.
Published on December 14, 2018


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